What Happened When I Decided to Stop Selling My Work

“Making money to support your art is not selling out. Allowing others to determine its direction, is.” – Colin Wright

This quote expresses clearly a concept that has been in my head for several months now and I have been debating whether or not to publish this post for a while. It’s never easy to share personal struggles, but my hope is that for every post I share there might be a person out there who realizes they’re not alone. So, here goes.

After a series of disappointments regarding selling my work I realized that I had gone down a path that was detrimental to my art. I had made the act of selling a measurement for quality. If it sold, it was good, if it didn’t then it wasn’t. When you create something and others appreciate it, your ego is rewarded. You feel validated and appreciated. If no one comments or seems to care is the work any less good? What if no one was ever going to praise you for what you are doing? Would you still do it?

The answer to these questions is different for each artist out there. For some there is no point in creating without  external validation. In my opinion validation is good, and necessary. Depending on it and letting it direct what you do is not. I had come to a place where a sale was the only means of validation of the quality of my work. It was a bad road to be on and, quite honestly, it was stifling my creativity.

One day I decided to stop creating work that I thought would sell. As a matter of fact, I set out to do just the opposite and I started creating work just for me. What happened when I did that? I created much better photographs! Without the pressure of the sale I was suddenly able to visit a place even if the light wasn’t going to be perfect or to shoot at a location I love even if the images from there aren’t as popular. By eliminating the fear behind the possibility (or lack thereof) of a sale, I liberated my creative process and allowed myself the freedom of being fully immersed in what I was photographing.

Enlightened
Enlightened – taken at Oceanside Pier

Here’s the thing, I need that photography income and I want to continue making money from something that I love to do. Aside from that, my DNA is wired for business and I can’t turn that off.

So I’ve come up with a plan.

Little by little, by the end of this year, I will have greatly reduced what I sell and where. Rather than choosing work based on what I think will sell I will choose work based on what I feel represents me and my creative process. The subject matter I photograph will be chosen because it matters to me, because I, on some level, find it beautiful and meaningful. The ultimate part of this plan is also creating a stream of passive income (more on that later) so that money can be generated while I am out shooting, or enjoying time with friends, or napping with Mr. Bear.

If you feel that you have gone down a similar path, David duChemin has recently released two books which I highly recommend. They’re very different from his first books in that they focus a lot on finding what is important to you – A Beautiful Anarchy – and being able to make a living from that –  How to Feed a Starving Artist.  He candidly shares his own personal struggles in the hopes of helping others and motivates and inspires with the written word in a way that I can only dream of.

Ultimately, the point of this exercise is not to stop taking photos and it’s not to stop making money from them, either. The point is to be true to myself so that I can create the art that means something to me and hopefully others rather than chasing some commercial ideal that doesn’t really exist. Life is much too precious to waste time doing anything else.

 

2 Comments

  1. djkreger said:

    I am saving this post. This speaks directly to the concerns I’ve had about trying to make a living off of what I create. When I started to get paid for it, it felt great of course…but I started to notice that I didn’t enjoy the process of shooting. At all. I dreaded the process, actually. I felt I couldn’t take the time to set up the shot the way I wanted. It all felt rushed. I suppose that is much more normal when shooting people, as opposed to shooting what I really love to shoot – the outdoors.

    I’m glad you are finding your way with this, Ana. Have you read Seth Godin’s “The Icarus Deception”? It’s about work, art, and the courage to do it all the way YOU need to.

    September 24, 2014
    • Thank you for your comment, Dan, it means a lot to me. I’m going to check out that book and I highly recommend the duChemin books – he addresses all of the challenges you’re facing. It’s really seductive to go for the money even if it’s not something you enjoy, but then how would it be different from any other corporate or menial job?

      September 24, 2014

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